Performing Bilingualism at the Meso Level: An Example from a Bilingual School in Mid-Wales

Nigel Musk

Linköping University, Sweden

WS152: Scales of Multilingualism: Towards a multi-layered analysis of linguistic diversity

In 2003 the National Assembly for Wales/Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru produced “a national action plan for a bilingual Wales” entitled Iaith Pawb (everyone’s language) expressing bold aspirations for “a truly bilingual Wales” (WAG 2003: 1). One of the institutions charged with the task of delivering this is the Welsh education system, not least the expanding provision of bilingual education. It is here in the institutional meso level of the school that macro- and micro-level discourses meet, where the Language Policy and Planning (LPP) documents at an all-Wales level are to be implemented with a view to “encourag[ing] individuals to learn Welsh and empower them to use the language.” (WAG 2003: §4.1)

In this paper I maintain that this meso level of society is an important site for examining the recontextualisation of identifiable discourses enshrined in such LPP documents. Likewise, in the context of Spanish education, Martín Rojo (2004: 247) has also highlighted the mediating role of the institutional level between the micro and macro levels of society.

An important theoretical point of departure for this paper is Butler’s (1990, 1993) application and adaptation of Austin’s (1962) notion of performativity to the construction of gender. Hence one of my central tenets is that bilingualism, like gender, can be regarded as a category that does not predate the concept; it is produced by means of repeated discursive acts, “which congeal over time to produce the appearance of substance, of a natural type of being.” (Butler 1990: 33) Thus bilingualism is to be seen as dynamic bilingualisms-in-practice, which are continually being reshaped, revalued and reconstituted, both through discourses which recontextualise the notion, and through the everyday language practices of bilinguals (Musk 2006: 113).

This paper relies on combining discourse analytic methods (including Conversation Analysis) to shed light on bilingualisms-in-practice and to identify discourses on bilingualism, i.e. aggregates of similar discursive features in circulation across different contexts. The data used for the analysis ranges from national and local LPP documents to a headmaster’s address to parents and prospective pupils of a bilingual school in mid-Wales to peer talk-in-interaction among pupils of the same school.


Austin, J. L. (1997, second ed. [1962]) How to Do Things with Words. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Butler, J. (1990) Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York/London: Routledge.

Butler, J. (1993) Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’. New York/London: Routledge.

Musk, N. (2006) Performing Bilingualism in Wales with the Spotlight on Welsh. Linköping: LiU-Tryck. (28 September 2007)

Rojo, L. Martín. (2004) “Ideological Dilemmas in Language and Cultural Policies in Madrid Schools.” Language Rights and Language Survival. Eds. J. Freeland & D. Patrick. Manchester, UK: St. Jerome Publishing, 243-272.

Session: Workshop
Scales of Multilingualism: Towards a multi-layered analysis of linguistic diversity
Friday, April 4, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 17